Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rites of Passage - Swiss Style

Switzerland is one of the countries we have enjoyed most. The bike infrastructure, the clean rivers, the free drinking water in every town, and now the fire festival. Liestal, Switzerland is the 13,000 resident sister town of Sacramento, CA. Why? Probably not because once a year they carry and pull burning things through the town in a most spectacular spectacle. On the Sunday night after Mardi Gras, the town parties with confetti, beer, raclette, and of course burning bundles of wood.

Erwin, Thomas' dad, took us to Chienbäse and hold on because there are a lot of photos in this post.

When I say bundles of burning logs I mean... a lot of wood.

You don't get to use your tractor for the actual "parade", somebody, or some people, do the pulling. The group below was dressed in a team outfit that was kind of... dark. You'll see some brighter versions soon. Also, note the way the street is colored in many colors. And someone is stooped over grabbing a good handful of street. No doubt she threw that at her unsuspecting friend on the cell phone. 

Those colors, that entire street? Confetti.

I nailed Joshua. He didn't think I'd do it.

Joy in a bag. 

A group of kids was pelting a lady with yellow confetti. We're assuming she was their teacher or something.

This trailer has been used before. Each group is called a clique - and I'm guessing that once you're in, you're always in. The folks practice and train all year round for this evening. Below, a good shot of the wheel. Notice how everything about this "trailer" is metal? Remember that.

And it's not just burning wood they practice. They also have marching bands. A lot of them. They march through town, with small crowds following along behind. The daytime bands are full bands and they play pop songs and rock the party. The more traditional groups have just tom-toms and flutes. No matter what, they are in team costume. 

Many of the costumes involve large, hideous, terrifying masks. Luckily, I am not afraid of masks.

Masked team on the right. Dudes with wood on the left.

Below is my highly professional video of this scene. Marching band.

Yeah, I was thinking "that must be heavy, but I guess you get used to it" too. What I didn't think about is how much lighter the wood bundles would be once they were on fire.

A/V team clearly got set up early. Just waiting for the show now. 

Yup. That guy. With the witch hat. And the smaller wood bundles. And the wool jacket. That guy is going to light that shit on fire and run down the street while thousands of people watch and try not to get sparked on. Some people (carrying fire) wore colanders as helmets.

And possibly the best part (not even close) is that they come down this little street, through that little archway. Yeah. 

Francis, you want a soda? Yeah, me neither. Forgot my Lire anyway.

Why go to the bar when you can just bring one with you? These guys just kept moving when someone needed more space in the street for giant rolling carts full of wood.

Note the masks in the windows. Also, how tall the pile of wood is in the photo below. Think they'll sit in the windows when that wood is burning? Nope. No they won't.

This band. Pink clogs. They are both the marching band and the football team. You can see one helmet held by the guy with green hair, right behind the giant, white tuba. They had helmets and huge faces. They played with their helmets on, but on a stage and I didn't get a good picture. The bands took turns on the stage. 

Normal street scene. This week.

Typical Liestal residents.

Joshua might be looking up at that mural and he is definitely not terrified, even if I caught him with the flash. He's completely happy because he is eating a cheese pie and drinking Quöllfrish. A number of people came up to Joshua throughout the afternoon and evening, warning him that having a beard like that was dangerous in this town. They joked and said he would get home 1 kilo lighter - because the sparks would burn his beard off. Funny. One guy started talking to Joshua in Swiss-German and when Joshua said he didn't speak German (in German) the guy responded (in English): "Oh, I thought you were from the mountains. With that beard."

The best cheese pie ever. Or, as the Swiss say: Chäs-chüechli

What would a Swiss street party/religious/pagan tradition be without giant sausages?

It's getting darker... this is another street, just for the record.

Okay, not enough light for my underwater camera. The green glow is coming from the last marching band that walked down the street. Everyone was lined up to watch at this point. The festivities start at 7:15pm, so people are ready at 7. Those lights above the street, as well as the rest of the lights in the city, were turned off shortly after this photo was taken. Two elderly couples on the third floor of the building across from us still had a light on, and everyone in the street and in other apartments yelled at them to turn off the lights. We all cheered them when they finally turned them off.

The above is with flash. There's a parade happening. Flute marching band walking by with lanterns. Don't worry, the next post will be full of them. The point of this photo is to show you how dark it was.

And finally the fire:

Individual insane really tough people carrying their burning bundles. 

Our viewpoint, from behind a few rows of people. We were hot. This was a small one.

Below is our view looking up the street towards the tower. Um. Is that a fire? On wheels? Remember, they are human-powered now. 

Oh, here it comes.

 Did something just explode up there?

The firemen - the ones who are there in case something (else) starts burning - stood between the front row and the cart. They had everyone turn away to protect their faces, not that the spectators needed coaching. There were fire hoses all around. Just in case the three story high flames...

They came singly and in packs. They would pause, smile for the cameras, then they'd do some yelling and take off running.

oh fuck. really?

It was a cold, dark night - between burning carts. There were more individuals than carts overall.

remember this one?

The above was the tallest. Almost got the street lights strung above.

Erwin, our host

warmed and lit by flame

After the show was over, the party went on. We had some raclette and I just could not get a good photo. That is half a round of cheese. The guy roasted the top, open edge with a raclette roaster and then once it was melted and browned enough he scraped the top layer onto a piece of bread. We ate them with pickles and pickled onions and special raclette spices.

That was the night. It was all over by about 9:30pm and after our cheese bomb late-night snack we headed back to the house to catch some sleep before we woke up the next morning at 2:30am. That'll have to be the next post.

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